LIFE group guide: our declaration of dependence

 

NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use tomorrow (July 6) in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church. This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.

Reason

Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of this morning’s sermon.

To declare and underscore our complete dependence on God, the only true Power.

Revelation

These Scriptures form some of the foundation of this sermon.

•  The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one. … The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace. (Psalm 28.8; 29.11 NIV)

•  No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and  our shield. (Psalm 33.16-20 NIV)

•  The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21.1 NRSV)

•  I am the vine, you are the branches. … apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15.5 NRSV)

•  From one person God created every human nation to live on the whole earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands. God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. (Acts 17.26-27a CEB)

•  … it doesn’t depend on a person’s desire or effort. It depends entirely on God, who shows mercy. (Romans 9.16 CEB)

•  … let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. … the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. … Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. (Galatians 5.16a,22-23a,25 NLT)

•  … through your faith, God is protecting you by his power … (1 Peter 1.5 NLT)

Relation

Use one of the following icebreaker questions to prime the pump, to help the conversation begin. Choose one to discuss.

1. At what age would you say you became independent of your parents? Where were you in life?

2. Tell us of an instance in which you became keenly aware of your total dependence on God.

Research

These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this sermon.

1. As a group, read Ps. 23 aloud. For what does this psalm’s author sense his God-dependence?

2. Categorize each of the texts above as to what each specifies we’re dependent on God for.

Reflection

These questions assist our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us in our encounter with God’s word.

1. How does a gathering of believers (e.g. a LIFE group or church) express dependence on God?

2. If a person seeks to live totally dependent on God what will they not do?

3. How is prayer tied to our dependence on God? Humility? Faith?

4. What steps can a person take to mature their awareness of dependence on God? A church?

Response

These ideas/suggestions are for your use beyond the group meeting; to aid in living out today’s message in the coming days.

1. Itemize specifics in which you sense your God-dependence. Study the list for what’s missing.

2. Methodically pray through the Psalms of Ascent (Ps. 120-134) with your mind on dependency.

then they can see my glory, which you gave me

 

“Father, I want those you gave me to be with me where I am. Then they can see my glory, which you gave me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” (John 17.24 CEB)

Sharing what I know of God, through words and ways, is my great privilege and joy every day of the week. Bringing light into realms of darkness and helping add fuel to the lamps of others who burn for God, well, this is my bread and butter.

Blog-tour-logo-CompadresBut what, pray tell, I ask, does it mean to “be” where Jesus is? Or to “see” Jesus’ “glory?” What on earth – or wherever Jesus is – is the glory the Father gave him “because” he loved” him? Do, please explain to me the glory our Father God gave his Son Jesus “before the creation of the world,” if you can.

I tell you, you can’t do it. And neither can I.

For to read and reflect and on these words sets our collective mind to reeling. Our brain goes on tilt. It’s as if we need someone to hit the reset button, for we don’t even begin to understand what all these words of our Lord must mean.

And that’s okay. Actually more than “okay” … glorious. Really.

For these words from our Lord were not recorded to give us greater clarity of knowledge about God, but to deliberately deepen the mystery that surrounds – indeed, is – our God, as well as our faith in him. They were not intended to answer our questions (as if we even naturally know what are the best questions to ask to begin with!), but rather to give rise to more and different questions in our heart. Truly, this is the purpose of these words from our Lord: to increase the volume of our wonder, not vaporize it.

What’s that you say? You ask, “Why is that?” Quite frankly, because we don’t need a god we can completely figure out.

Oh, we might think we want such a god, but a god who doesn’t transcend us is no brighter or greater than us and thereby, no god at all. Such a “god” would only be an extension of us or a projection of ourselves. Such a god would be a god far too small to be God. God knows this world has enough puny-pretend, lazy-and-lame gods already, thank you very much.

No, our deep need is a God we can’t get our arms completely around. Not even close. We need (and in our saner moments, we know we want) God to be a God who can – and always has, and always will – do far more than we can ever begin to even ask or imagine. We understand that what we want God to be is holy and wholly “other;” nothing but good and radically distinct from us. We need God not to be One who can be naturally understood by all, but supernatural in all his ways. A God who is far, far bigger than just what we know in this moment, but all of what is past and all of what is future, too.

Only such a God as this is truly “glorious” and can (and would) lovingly long to share his glorious presence with us.

And he has. His name is Jesus.

And he will. Through Jesus.

This he began before he created this world. As he works this still in his re-creation of things now. And he will still be doing it when he completely and gloriously brings heaven and earth together in his glory forever to come.

This is mind-blowing stuff that words alone are all too insufficient to convey! And so … like the One who interceded/intercedes for us … we should engage this mystery with the mystery that is p-r-a-y-e-r, and do so with his glory in view.

Father in heaven, hear this prayer of the One who intercedes for us. We echo his prayer and we mingle our prayers with his: bring us into his presence and Yours. Grant that we will be enabled to see your glory. The love and glory that alone is of you and has always been. So be it. Though we – gloriously – can’t begin to fully comprehend it.

Glory be to God!

putting skin on the sermon: walk in the light

 

Sunset-2013-11-11Yesterday morning’s sermon worked out of John 12.35-36. In that passage, Jesus paints a mental picture for the crowd:

“The light is with you for only a little while. Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going. As long as you have the light, believe in the light so that you might become people whose lives are determined by the light.”

The image is of someone walking with purpose, and perhaps with a bit of hustle, trying to get to their destination, before nightfall (“walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you”). Their way may not be familiar to them and could even hold any number of problems that could leave them vulnerable. Such a person has one objective in mind: to avoid the delay and the possible dangers that would come from getting lost (“those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going”). Consequently, every decision they make, every step they take along the way, they make on the amount of light they still have at the moment. They are “people whose lives are determined by the light.”

Jesus claimed to be the light in our life:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8.12)

There is no time for delay in choosing to believe him and walk with him, in his light. Time is not our friend and neither is darkness. He urges us to “… believe in the light so that” so that we will “become people whose lives are determined” by him. If we do so, he will bring us safely to where we belong: home with him.

So how can we walk daily, and all day long, with such clear purpose and determination? Here are three things that can assist you in your journey.

1. Start each day well in your heart. That is, start with Christ your Lord clearly in focus. Get your mind right and the rest will follow. One way to do this is to make a portion of Scripture a point of reflection and meditation as soon as you get up in the morning. Here’s an exercise to get you started with that habit: take a few minutes to watch the day dawn, moving from darkness to light, meditating on Ephesians 5.8-9 as you do so. Do this every day for a week. This passage reads:

“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth.”

2. Take a few moments throughout the course of each day to deliberately recall the true Lord to whom you belong. Think of such as something like a soft reset or reboot of your operating system, your spirit.

“All of you are children of light and children of the day. We don’t belong to night or darkness.” (1 Thessalonians 5.5)

Remember some of the horizontal blessings you enjoy because of your walk with the Lord and thank him for such.

“… if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other …” (1 John 1.7a)

Pray a brief prayer of thanksgiving as well for the ultimate vertical blessing we have because of our Savior:

“…  and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.” (1 John 1.7b)

3. End the thoughts of each day well. Consider your last conscious thoughts of the day as your way of preparing and supplying your mind for it’s effort and rest while you sleep. You might do this by going for an evening walk with someone. Try deliberately walking toward the setting sun and discussing John 12.35 as you go. Remember it?

“Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going.”

LIFE group guide: walk in the light

 

NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church tomorrow (Nov. 10). This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon tomorrow morning from John 12.35-36. This sermon is entitled “Walk in the Light” and is another installment in the Jesus: Master & Commander series.

To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues. All Scripture texts reproduced below, unless otherwise noted, are from the CEB.

Reason

Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of the sermon series, or this particular sermon in a series.

To call our attention, and our conscience, to some of our Lord’s direct charges to us.

Revelation

These Scriptures form some of the foundation of the sermon. Underscored words are emphasized in the Greek text.

Jesus spoke to the people again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8.12)

Jesus replied: “The light is with you for only a little while. Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going. As long as you have the light, believe in the light so that you might become people whose lives are determined by the light.” (John 12.35-36a)

You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth. Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. (Ephesians 5.8-11a)

All of you are children of light and children of the day. We don’t belong to night or darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5.5)

If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. (1 John 1.6-7)

Relation

These icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start thinking, talking, and relating to the topic or texts. Discuss one.

1. Were you/are you afraid of the dark? Tell us about it.

2. Tell us of beauty you’ve seen due to sunlight (e.g. – sunrise, sunset, rainbow, etc.).

3. Do you enjoy walking? If so, share tell us of your walking habits (when, where, etc.).

Research

These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.

1. List the parallel thoughts you find in John 3.19-21 and John 12.31-36.

2. In light of John 7.2,37, Jesus likely spoke John 8.12 on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths). Research the ceremonies of this feast that involved light.

3. Using the Scripture texts above, complete this sentence: “When someone allows their life to be daily determined by the light of Christ they ____________.”

Reflection

These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us thru his word. Choose some.

1. What are some of the biggest blessings you enjoy from living/walking in the light?

2. What danger does light bring to the parts of you that seek darkness?

3. What is it like to be overtaken by darkness, spiritually speaking?

4. Why do you sometimes procrastinate in walking in/toward/with the light of God?

Response

These ideas/suggestions are for your use beyond the group meeting; to aid you in living out today’s message in the coming days.

1. Watch a day dawn, moving from darkness to light. Meditate on Ephesians 5.8-9 as you do.

2. Go for an evening walk with someone. Walking toward the sunset, discuss John 12.35.

Bruner on John 21.3

 

… I am impressed … in this chapter [John 21] … that John sees Jesus revealing himself, first and most impressively of all, to failing, not succeeding disciples. Jesus is, surprisingly, not recorded here as revealing himself to a prayer meeting (‘surprising’ because Jesus so honors prayer in this Gospel: e.g., ‘asking’ in John 4); ‘coming to me’ in John 6; and then especially in his Discipleship Sermons his repeated promises to ‘asking’ disciples in John 14.13-14; 15.7,16; 16.23,26-27; but perhaps in special particular, by the model of Jesus’ own ‘asking’ in his long, seventeenth-chapter prayer). Nor is Jesus reported here as coming to his disciples when they are gathered in Bible study (though Jesus seeks Christ-centered Bible study, esp. 5.39-40). Rather, John chooses to tell a story that teaches us that Jesus is comes, precisely, to disciples disappointed in their work (Recall Jesus’ first two Beatitudes, Matt. 5.3-4)

Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Eerdmans, 2012), p.1208